The frequency of young individuals consuming harmful amounts of marijuana edibles or smoking marijuana to the point where they need emergency assistance increased considerably during the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC researchers analyzed cannabis-related data from 1,671 emergency departments from 2020 through 2022, comparing them to similar visits in 2019.

Key takeaways:

  • The majority of the marijuana-related ER visits were older teenagers, however, there was an astonishing increase among children under the age of 11: From 2019-2022, there was a 214% increase for this particular age group. The study authors believe that these visits likely result from accidental poisoning associated with marijuana edibles in appealing packaging to children.
  • Among youth ages 11 to 14, girls had an eye-catching rise: A 111% average increase from 2019 to 2022. The average increase for middle school boys during the same time frame was 24%.

What could have caused youth marijuana-related ER visits to increase during the pandemic?

It is possible that some kids and teenagers were trying to use marijuana products to relieve the stress brought on by the pandemic without understanding the harms of the product. Commonly used marijuana products of this group include weed pens and other vaping devices with high levels of THC. Research shows that using marijuana products can increase feelings of anxiety and stress versus relieve them. It is important that teens are educated on healthy ways to manage stress instead of using substances to cope.

Another cause is likely due to accidental poisonings by young kids who mistakenly consume marijuana edibles or products that have copy-cat labeling and packaging. Copy-cat labeling mimics commonly eaten snacks and products that youth are familiar with. A recent NBC News article noted that “federal regulators are attempting to address the issue of copy-cat labeling. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to six companies for selling illegal copy-cat food products containing THC.

Notably, as many as 23 states have legalized recreational marijuana and 38 allow its medical use, making access to marijuana products by youth more accessible.